Reno, NV

May Day and the Labor Movement in Reno, Nevada

Jenny Justice

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Today is May Day, May 1st. May Day is a worker’s remembrance holiday of sorts, remembering the struggle for such major labor rights achievements like the 8 hour workday.

For a brief history of May Day, as well as the Labor Movement in America, check out the International Workers of the World and their website. For a bit of the history, taken from their website and to get you interested in more read this:

"In a proclamation printed just before May 1, 1886, one publisher appealed to working people with this plea:

  • Workingmen to Arms!
  • War to the Palace, Peace to the Cottage, and Death to LUXURIOUS IDLENESS.
  • The wage system is the only cause of the World's misery. It is supported by the rich classes, and to destroy it, they must be either made to work or DIE.
  • One pound of DYNAMITE is better than a bushel of BALLOTS!
  • MAKE YOUR DEMAND FOR EIGHT HOURS with weapons in your hands to meet the capitalistic bloodhounds, police, and militia in proper manner.

Not surprisingly the entire city was prepared for mass bloodshed, reminiscent of the railroad strike a decade earlier when police and soldiers gunned down hundreds of striking workers. On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public's eye. With their fiery speeches and revolutionary ideology of direct action, anarchists and anarchism became respected and embraced by the working people and despised by the capitalists.

The names of many - Albert Parsons, Johann Most, August Spies and Louis Lingg - became household words in Chicago and throughout the country. Parades, bands and tens of thousands of demonstrators in the streets exemplified the workers' strength and unity, yet didn't become violent as the newspapers and authorities predicted.

More and more workers continued to walk off their jobs until the numbers swelled to nearly 100,000, yet peace prevailed. It was not until two days later, May 3, 1886, that violence broke out at the McCormick Reaper Works between police and strikers."

In Nevada, 1906-1907 there "were a series of strikes and a lockout which pitted gold miners and other laborers, represented by the Western Federation of Miners (WFM) and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), against mine owners and businessmen.

The troubles are significant because in Goldfield the IWW gained its greatest degree of power in a labor market, and came closest to its ideal of "the one big union."[1]p.191–192 The power of the IWW was ended by the controversial occupation by federal troops in December 1907." (source.)

It’s clear that a lot went down in the fight for labor rights in America. And to get into the entire history would be beyond the scope of this article but let’s say that things used to be not only legal, but normal and expected - things like workers working for 12-14 hours a day, children working, terrible working conditions with no breaks or even fire escapes and a lot of workers - both male and female - died for the causesource, or as casualties of the greed of the industrialists in those early days.

Reno has its own story to tell when it comes to labor history and workers rights. Nevada’s largest labor union is the Culinary Workers Union. At 60,000 members, the Culinary Workers Union has more members than any other union in Nevada, is the largest union local in a right-to-work state and is the largest local in UNITE HERE.The AFL-CIO is also working in Nevada, often supporting and uniting with other unions like the Culinary Workers.

Labor is facing just as big of a struggle as it always has, due to a long history of neoliberal policies, de-regulation, and a rollback of workers rights that kicked off in 1980 and has not slowed since. In Reno labor is organized in the trades and carpentry fields, and in police and firefighter fields and more. Unions serve to ensure worker job security, a voice in the workplace, and a way to maintain and expand the rights of workers on the job to things like fair pay, safe working conditions, and rights to support when it comes to the potential of being fired for unjust reasons.

In the era of COVID19 it is clear that 'essential workers' are also workers who work for low wages, little benefits, and face the most risk when it comes to pandemic safety and job security. This should be a wake up call for many. The folks we depend upon the most in a crisis are the folks who are often living paycheck to paycheck, with little savings, and no job security.

We have a long way to go in this nation. Gig workers, adjuncts, and other service and low income workers could benefit from the rights to form a union. Folks at the Amazon warehouses could benefit from the rights to form a union. And there has been a consistent and sharp decline in the standard of living and the very existence of a middle class that has gone hand in hand with the decline and attack on union membership and workers rights in America. So, given all of this and in celebration of May Day, I say learn about workers rights, learn about the history of Labor in America and in our local spaces, and do what you can do to be a part of the solution and not the problem when it comes to economic justice.

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Jenny Justice is a poet, writer, mother and teacher. She is just a girl in the world, new to town and learning to love this city - Reno, NV. She writes about all things local from food, to fun, to what you need to know to have a good day, good week, or good time in The Biggest Little City. Jenny loves books and will encourage that love of books with her book reviews. She also writes about relationships, dating, parenting, and other topics when the muse moves her. Follow her for good food, good books, and good fun especially in the Biggest Little City in the world.

Reno, NV
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